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English phonological awareness in bilinguals: a cross-linguistic study of Tamil, Malay and Chinese English-language learners

Authors


Address for correspondence: L. Quentin Dixon, Texas A&M University, 352 Harrington Tower, 4232 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4232, USA. E-mail: qdixon@tamu.edu

Abstract

To test the lexical restructuring hypothesis among bilingual English-language learners, English phonological awareness (PA), English vocabulary and ethnic language vocabulary (Mandarin Chinese, Malay or Tamil) were assessed among 284 kindergarteners (168 Chinese, 71 Malays and 45 Tamils) in Singapore. A multi-level regression analysis showed that English vocabulary, in interaction with mother's education, statistically significantly predicted Singaporean children's PA; ethnic language vocabulary did not. Thus, the present study supports the lexical restructuring hypothesis that growth in vocabulary changes how lexical items are stored, leading to the development of PA. Home language practices, as represented by mother's education, may also enhance children's PA after a threshold of English vocabulary is reached. In addition, specific ethnic language (Chinese, Malay or Tamil) was a statistically significant predictor of PA, suggesting that orthographic depth as well as syllabic complexity of a bilingual's other language may influence their development of English PA.

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